December 4, 2023

FRESNO — They known as the funeral residence incinerator right here the “pizza oven.”

Days earlier than a former Hells Angels Fresno chapter president is about to be sentenced for aiding the cremation of a person who was murdered by different membership members, federal prosecutors have dropped a bombshell, alleging {that a} funeral director knowledgeable the FBI there have been 4 such unlawful cremations.

Federal authorities consider they know the identities of all 4 our bodies, all former Hells Angels who’re both listed as lacking individuals or homicide victims, in keeping with court docket information.

These new revelations got here days earlier than the sentencing of 54-year-old Merl Hefferman, a former president of the Fresno Hells Angels who has pleaded responsible to obstructing justice by arranging the cremation of Livermore resident Joel Silva. This was executed after one other Hells Angel, Brian Wendt, shot Silva at the back of the top contained in the membership’s Fresno headquarters, capping off a homicide conspiracy that was hatched on the East Coast when Silva’s erratic conduct grew to become an excessive amount of for the biker gang to disregard, prosecutors say.

Federal prosecutors have named two of the others believed to have been cremated, an allegation prosecutors say is backed up by telephone information in addition to an FBI interview with the person who owned the funeral residence the place all of it occurred. One in all them, Robbie Huff, is a Hells Angels member final seen within the Fresno space in 2015, who allegedly aided the coverup of Silva’s 2014 homicide by burning his pickup truck afterward.

The second man named by federal prosecutors, Arthur Carasis, is a longtime Contra Costa County resident and Hells Angels member. He was final seen in 2016, in Madera County, which borders on Fresno County, authorities say. The fourth lacking man was recognized in a protection sentencing memo as Juan Guevara, who went lacking on Sept. 14, 2015, in Kern County. Authorities say he was final seen carrying a black shirt, blue denim denims, black Adidas sneakers, and a Hells Angels Motorbike Membership jacket.

Hefferman’s lawyer vehemently denied that his shopper had something to do with any clandestine cremations — save for the one he’s already pleaded responsible to — and known as the prosecution’s allegations a last-ditch effort to safe an extended sentence with unproven rumors.

“The underside line is whether it is info not credible or adequate to indict by the use of grand jury, then it isn’t sufficiently dependable to contemplate for sentencing,” Hefferman’s lawyer, James Bustamante, wrote in a sentencing memo. He mentioned the prosecution failed to say of their court docket filings that the funeral residence proprietor additionally gave an FBI interview “whereby he denies unlawful cremations at least 77 occasions.”

However court docket information present that informants have been telling the FBI for years that there have been different useless our bodies that met the identical destiny as Silva. They allegedly referred to it because the “pizza oven,” a coded phrase that has proven up time and time once more in court docket filings, unsealed FBI paperwork, and testimony in two trials that resulted in convictions in opposition to 4 individuals for involvement in Silva’s homicide.

The lead prosecution witness, a former Richmond Hells Angel named Joseph Hardisty, informed authorities that Wendt had additionally admitted to Hardisty “he had used the pizza oven for 5 – 6 our bodies,” and that “the opposite murders had been bikers from different golf equipment that (the Hells Angels) didn’t like,” authorities wrote in court docket filings.

Wendt, together with longtime Sonoma Hells Angels Jonathan Nelson and Russell Ott, had been convicted final yr of racketeering for enjoying totally different roles in Silva’s homicide. Prosecutors allege that Nelson, the president of the Hells Angels Sonoma chapter, ordered the homicide, that Ott helped lure Silva to Fresno, and that Wendt fired a shot into the again of Silva’s head when he bent down to examine some marijuana contained in the Fresno clubhouse.

Testifying on the trio’s 2022 trial, Hardisty admitted to serving to plan the homicide of Silva, one among his closest mates on the time. Hardisty mentioned he did so by internet hosting a gathering at his Antioch residence the place the plan was hashed out. Afterward, he mentioned Wendt informed him the killing had gone as deliberate and that it was “one among his higher murders,” in keeping with court docket information. Wendt additionally informed Hardisty that if he ever wanted to make use of the crematorium to name a telephone quantity and say he was “cooking pizza,” Hardisty informed the FBI.

However particulars of different cremations had been stored from the jury. U.S. District Decide Edward Chen dominated repeatedly in opposition to prosecutors’ makes an attempt to introduce proof of different murders and options that there have been a number of physique disposals. Assistant U.S. Lawyer Kevin Barry revisited the problem a number of occasions throughout trial and repeatedly argued the protection was “knocking on the door” to permit testimony of a number of our bodies being illegally cremated in Fresno, by asking charged questions of sure witnesses, like the person who owned the funeral residence.

However particular particulars had been by no means introduced in.

The director of the Fresno funeral residence testified that Hefferman’s relative and two others confirmed as much as his enterprise in July 2014 and forcibly positioned a physique into the cremation oven after a authorized cremation had already began.

However the director additionally claimed reminiscence issues and an inclination to get “blackout drunk” throughout an FBI interview, Hefferman’s lawyer mentioned in court docket papers. And Hardisty testified that he was informed Silva was illegally cremated at a neighborhood pet cemetery, prompting the FBI to serve a search warrant on the location in 2017. It turned out to not be true.

However prosecutors say that telephone information obtained by the FBI make up for the funeral residence director’s inconsistent statements. The FBI discovered that Hefferman contacted the funeral residence proprietor in July 2014, when Silva went lacking, then once more on Feb. 11, 2015, the identical day Huff was final seen alive. There have been no calls between the 2 within the interim, prosecutors say.